As drama, Radamisto looks forward to
later opera seria, as far even as Mozart, and as a result is
more dramatically effective than almost any other Handel opera seen recently in
The patched up finale may induce the odd groan but
there are scenes of genuine theatrical intensity which bring to mind
Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito and, for
once in a Handel opera, the plot matters.
The scene halfway through the second half where
Radamisto appears in disguise before his wife Zenobia and the tyrant Tiridate –
the wife recognises the husband but the interloper, intent on ravishing her,
does not – sets up a dramatic tension which is spellbinding, especially in
David Alden’s typically idiosyncratic new staging (a co-production with Santa
Alden sets the first third of the opera so far
forward that the cast are virtually glued to the proscenium line, everything
resembling a 2-D picture book until eventually the set rolls back and we see
the depth of the stage. Even then,
Gideon Davey’s sets tend towards stylish simplicity, all glittering surfaces
clashing with eastern tapestries.
It’s a far cry from Alden’s previous Handel outing in this house (Ariodante)
when he cluttered the stage with all sorts of paraphernalia.
On paper, it should be
dull but Alden’s production rivets throughout, not least from his masterly handling
of the singers. He gets away with
actions that might look ridiculous in lesser hands (a man scuttling across the
stage on his face, riddled with arrows like Kurosawa’s Macbeth, raised not one
unwanted titter from the first night audience).
A few moments of well-placed levity
aside, Alden plays it pretty straight and he’s served by a superb cast. It’s good to see Christine Rice freed
from male attire – earlier Handel appearances in the house included a suave,
moustachioed Arsace in Partenope and an hilarious grubby oik
of a Nero in Agrippina - and her earnest, committed Zenobia
is rewarded with some of the loveliest arias of the evening, which she delivers
Zazzo is superb in the title role and there’s an impressive ENO debut from Ryan
McKinny as a tall and sinister Tiridate.
Ailish Tynan is equally good as a roly-poly, fezzed-up Tigrane, her
soprano as incongruous for a wily warrior as her squat, bespectacled Sydney
Greenstreet get-up. If Sophie
Bevan’s Polissena doesn’t sparkle quite as much as her colleagues, she has fine
capo arias never outstay their welcome and the running time (some two
and half hours of music) is shorter than for most Handel operas. There’s not a moment of tedium to be
had and, once again, ENO proves itself peerless in this repertoire.
It’s surprising that
Radamisto hasn’t reached us sooner. It contains some truly glorious music
and Handel specialist Laurence Cummings and the ENO Orchestra make a major
contribution to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.